By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
In 2015 the Ell-Saline Cardinals handed Bennington a hard-fought 18-8 loss in Brookville to win their fifth straight game over the Bulldogs.
At the time, both teams were members of Class 2A, but over the years each reclassified a number of times, keeping the Cardinals and Bulldogs off of each other’s schedules.
Even though more than 2,500 days have passed since their last meeting, both teams will enter a week four matchup in Brookville eager to renew their rivalry, as the battle between the Bennington and Ell-Saline takes center stage in the community.
“Our kids are pretty wound up and excited for this one,” Cardinals head coach Joe Roche said. “We know Bennington well and we compete against them in plenty of other sports. The kids all know each other well and we’re looking forward to it.”
Beyond the rosters and coaching staffs, much has changed within these two programs over the years, and each will get a new look at the other this week.
For the 0-3 Bulldogs, this game represents an opportunity to continue to grow and put the pieces together as a relatively new team gets to grips with the speed of the varsity game.
“We’re continuing to get better,” Bennington head coach Bryan Shamburg said. “I knew we were relatively inexperienced in terms of varsity minutes so we expected a slow start but we’re continuing to see progress from week to week.”
For 2-1 Ell-Saline, this game provides an opportunity to continue asserting their dominance early in their maiden voyage into 8-man, and to put on a show for the Brookville community on a very special night.
“We’re excited, we’re healthy and we’re ready to go,” Roche said. “We have brand new lights installed and we’re pumped to play under those and to show off our new facility to our fans.”
In order for Bennington to find success this week, the Bulldogs will need to find an answer for Cardinal quarterback Kade Wilson, who had his way with opposing defenses in Ell-Saline’s two wins.
“[Wilson] is pretty shifty and he runs the ball well which opens up the passing game,” Shamburg said. “We have to contain him and we have to make sure we get our coverages right. When you play a dual-threat quarterback like that it definitely keeps you on your toes.”
While Wilson is sure to make his mark on this matchup, Ell-Saline remains hopeful that they can establish a rushing attack beyond the senior star.
“We need to improve our inside running game outside of our quarterback,” Roche said. “Our offensive line is coming into their own despite their inexperience. They’re good kids and we think we have them in the right places.”
With no recent matchups to draw from, the start to this game will be imperative for both squads, and the familiarity between the two schools is sure to play a role as both teams settle in.
“These kids all know each other and some of them are even best friends,” Shamburg said. “We played 5 on 5 together and were at the same camps over the summer. This game has been talked about since it was scheduled and it’s big for the kids.”
Kickoff between the Cardinals and Bulldogs is scheduled for 7 pm under the new lights in Brookville.
For continuing coverage of both teams stay tuned to the Salina Post.